People & Events
When the American luxury liner, "Republic," collided with the Italian cargo ship, "Florida," in the icy waters off Nantucket, Jack Binns became a hero. As the "Republic" began to sink, the twenty-five-year-old wireless operator sent the distress call that brought the rescue ship, "Baltic."
Born John Robinson Binns in Lincolnshire, England, in 1884, "Jack" grew up an orphan. His father died only two days after his birth and his mother died a year later; the boy was raised by his paternal grandmother. At the age of fourteen, Binns began studying telegraphy. He went to work with the British Post Office when he was eighteen. Three years later he began working for the British Marconi Company, where he was assigned as wireless operator aboard the White Star liner "Republic."
On January 22, 1909, the "Republic" departed from New York harbor, bound for southern Italy. At 5:30 the following morning, in the fog-shrouded waters off Nantucket, the "Republic" was struck by the Italian cargo ship "Florida." The "Republic" suffered a puncture to its hull and began to sink.
The collision killed two of the "Republic's" passengers and damaged Binns' wireless. But Binns quickly made repairs and began to transmit the distress signal -- CQD. Although his signal was weak and he worked from batteries alone, Binns reached the Siasconsett wireless station on Nantucket. He stayed at his wireless for the next 36 hours, sending signal after signal from his frigid, water-swamped cabin. Eventually, the "Baltic," another White Star liner, came to the rescue.
When Binns arrived ashore in New York, he was surprised to find himself the focus of mass adoration. A ticker tape parade was held in his honor. He was offered contracts to perform on the vaudeville circuit. A song and a short film were made about him. No longer simply "Jack," he was now "CQD Binns," certified hero.
The attention was upsetting to Binns. He successfully sued Vitagraph, the company who made the film about him, for invasion of privacy. He testified before Congress about the need for mandatory wireless coverage on ship, but Congress failed to act. Discouraged, he returned to England.
Jack Binns worked as a wireless operator until 1912, when he turned down an assignment aboard the ill-fated "Titanic." He returned to America, where he began a new career -- journalism -- the day before the "Titanic" sank.
Binns continued his work in journalism until World War I, when he joined the Canadian Flying Corps as a wireless instructor. In 1924 he began work for the Hazeltine Co., an electronic engineering firm. He became the company's chairman of the board in 1957. Two years later, he died, at the age of seventy-five.